Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Thing

1938 brought us the short story "Who Goes There?". 1951 brought us Howard Hawks' The Thing From Another World. 1982 brought us John Carpenter's The Thing. And 2011 brings us Not John Carpenter's The Thing. Okay, maybe it's really Matthijs van Heijningen's The Thing, but Im not so sure he'd really want to put his name on this film.

I, like almost everyone else, LOVE John Carpenter's The Thing. It's one of my absolute favorite films of all time. And certainly Carpenter's best or second best. And anytime you're going to do a prequel to a film that is adored, you're doomed to fail. And I, UNLIKE everyone else, was willing to not necessarily be optimistic about it, but at least NOT be pessimistic, if that makes sense. I want to give a brief history of this project. At first, it was supposed to be remake of Carpenter's remake. Some people might say that is still the case, but only disguised as a prequel. And that's not the case. But Ill get into that later. The director thought it should be a direct prequel of Carpenter's The Thing. Okay, that's kind of respectable. What isnt, is the final product...

The film starts off kind of strong. It introduces potentially likeable characters. It has the big reveal of the spaceship, and has an actual pretty cool title. There were some things that were going to help make or break this film for me. And one of those things was the title. The reveal in the '82 version was brilliant! Cut-out logo, blue light, and a burning trashbag? Not only was that creative, but looked fucking phenomenal! This logo wasn't getting me to shit my pants, but it left a good taste in my mouth. It was influenced by the '82 version's but didn't fully replicate it (pardon the pun).

The first half hour wasn't as bad as I was expecting. Plenty of flaws, but passable ones. Stuff that I would have personally done differently, but hey, whatever. You're introduced to the characters. Some likeable, some just flat. Either way, it moved the story along enough. Once they cut out the cube of ice with the alien in it, it starts to move a little quicker. Fast-forward 10 minutes, the fucker breaks out of the ice. And I was skeptical in the trailer how the alien just decides to break out THEN, and not thousands of years ago. Well, it's pretty much explained. It's sitting there, being drilled into and melting. Well of course the ice is weak enough to break out of. So I was happy they clarified on that issue. Then it of course hides and snatches its first victim.

Going back to the issue of making or breaking the film. The most important one was... Special FX. One of the first things that pop into the head of a JC Thing fan's mind when hearing the words "The Thing" is: Special FX. That film has some of the most incredible special FX in any film. And Im talking practical FX, not optical or digital. Im talking splitting necks, bulging flesh, and tentacle glory. And the one lie the director of this film told us, that I do not fucking appreciate, is that his film would have plenty of practical special FX. Well, fuck you and fuck your face. The ONLY practical FX in this film were when it was lying on the fucking table doing less than a fucking paraplegic. When we're talking great special FX in JC's The Thing, we're not just talking great designs and sculptures, were talking full-on animatronic movements. Just watch the scene where Norris' head separates from his body and slides down the table. That looks god damn INCREDIBLE. Every fucking creature that moved in this 2011 The Thing was CG. And bad CG, at that. I am all for great CGI. Throw as much CGI at my face, as long as it looks great.

The first replicated human that exposes that it's The Thing was HORRID. I almost had to pinch myself as to how terrible it looked. And what was worse was that it got worse during the 7 seconds as it happened. It was like being raped THEN being set on fire... While still being raped. And it sucks because it happened in a fairly cool scene. The Thing is in the helicopter with these guys when it exposes itself, then the helicopter crashes. Would have been a flawless scene. And that happens throughout the whole movie. What you were watching had potential to be a solid prequel.

There was one thing I liked about the film, and that was the idea of it's "test scene". Instead of using blood, they use the idea of any in-organic items on or in you. IE: Tooth-fillings, metal plates, etc. So basically, The Thing can replicate you and your living cells, but nothing inanimate. Now as much as I liked the idea of not replicating the blood-test scene, it still has it's flaws. So... What if someone has never broken their bones or always flossed? Because they took care of their body, does that mean they're automatically alien? Granted, I like the idea, the blood-test was flawless seeing as all humans happen to have blood.

If you dont mind, Ill cunt about the FX a little more... They've managed to take cool designs, and completely spin them around and turn them into laughable ones due to the CG. One Im still on the fence about is the classic "split-face" creature. The route they went to explain how that happened was actually pretty cool. Basically, another guy exposes that he is The Thing, and crawls to one of the other camp members and pushes his face towards the other guy's face. To describe it best, it's almost like what a cat does with your hand or face. Pushes its face into it. The Thing was pushing it's face into the other guy's face. And the CG was a little better than previous scenes, but still would have looked 100% better had it been practical FX.

Remember in the '82 version of The Thing where there were no women? Well replace the word "women" with the word "tri-pod" in this version. I swear, there was not one fucking scene where the frame wasn't constantly moving. Close-up, wide-angle, coverage shot? Didnt fucking matter, the camera was CONSTANTLY moving. And for no damn reason. The beauty of Carpenter's The Thing was that it was so minimalistic. Let the tension prodrude out of the situation and reactions of the characters, not the fucking camera movements. The only feeling of tension I got from any of those scenes was the urge to cock-punch the damn camera man. Simplicity is key.

Before watching the 2011 version, I revisited the '82 version about 3 or 4 times to really keep an eye out of certain things at the Swedish... I mean, Norwegian camp. The bloody ax in the wall, the throat-slit guy, those yellow papers Doc is holding, the ice cube room, the helicopters, and so on. Some stuff they referenced, some stuff they didn't. First thing is first. If you make a prequel to a film in which one of it's coolest scenes includes an anonymous guy who slit his throat 4 inches deep with the blood frozen stream of blood running down his body... You not only create a 10-minute (at least!) scene explaining how and why, but you do it RIGHT! Was there a scene showing or explaining what happened to the guy for him to do this? No. In the credits, they show a shot of him. But guess what they managed to do? Fuck it up. They couldn't even replicate the gash in his throat properly. In the original, the cut in the guys throat is DEEP. In this? It's literally just a little cat scratch. I hate to complain about little things like this, but guess what? You make a prequel, you get the details down pat. You dont do your rendition of it, you do exactly as it is in the previous film to seamlessly connect the two films. That's just how it fucking works.

I will give credit where credit is due. He managed to explain the bloody ax in the wall, and managed to replicate the ice cube room pretty decently. As well as the Norwegian helicopter. You can bet your ass I was looking out for the "LOKK" (with the triangle) and "Norge" on the side of the helicopter. And he delivered. The only problem is... It was a mid-credit scene. You cut to credits when the movie is OVER. Not when it's almost over. There are exceptions, but this is not one of them.

Im actually jumping around a bit. I haven't even gotten to the climax. Im not going to give away too many spoilers, but the climax brings us inside the spaceship. It's even a track title on the soundtrack, so it's not much of a spoiler. But to go off in a little tangent, I want to explain a little something about spaceships and films. There are 3 cuts of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The theatrical release, the special edition, and the director's cut. My personal favorite is the director's cut. Speilberg's least favorite? The special edition. Why? Well, when the studio wanted to release a special edition, they asked to film an additional scene for the end of the film. They wanted to see Richard Dryfuss' character go into the ship, and actually see inside the ship. Spielberg filmed it, put it in and hated it. His theory, the mystery behind what was actually in the ship? Much better than actually SEEING what was in the ship. Which gives me a new motto. "Never go in the ship". There are of course, as always, exceptions. But for films like these, GTFO. The same happened with the ending of Cowboys & Aliens.

And to address the notion that this is a "remake". It really is not. I said it before I watched the movie, and I say it post. There really is not much else you can do different with a movie like this. You're secluded in Antarctica, where the only landscape you have is white. And when you're not outside, you're confined in a tight hallway or a small room. And since the Norwegian camp was the initial camp to encounter The Thing, the same plot tactics have to be used. Stage 1: Disbelief. Stage 2: Strategy. Stage 3: Paranoia. And so on and so forth. The one thing you CAN strike at the movie is... Well, since you can't actually do anything radically different with the film, why produce it? And Ive wondered that myself. I commonly paraphrase Dr. Ian Malcom from Jurassic Park with situations like these: Just because you can, doesnt always mean you should...

Was The Thing (2011) good? No. Was it the worse thing Ive ever seen? No. There were things to enjoy about the film. But the bad completely out-weighed the good. There are a couple things Im leaving out about the film. And that's because I just dont want to spend any more time on this film. I dont want to completely knock the director because I dont work in the film industry and I dont know what is your decision to make, and what is the studios'. And this guy being a first-time director, I cant imagine he had much say in a lot of THINGS. Get it?!?!!? Fuck off.

... Ha, and apparently the Norwegians never blew up the ice over-top the ship with thermite charges in the original. That was just in our heads (even though there was footage of it... About 9 hours of it). The vibrations from the ship miraculously disintegrated the ice in this one. Inconsistencies, inconsistencies. Fucking blow me.

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